Neelan’s excuse as to why no one talks to him at parties anymore

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Lets be honest. I dread the “What do you do?” question in a bar or party setting. If I ever have to go beyond the “business manager in a private software company” line when introducing myself, the reaction is one that, at best, is an “Oh…” More likely, the person just looks for the first opportunity to walk away. Even the “but… but… I was a professional blackjack player…” or “I helped make a really cool ebook app…” or “My daughter really loves baseball…” usually doesn’t salvage the day.

The real answer to the question of “What do you do?” is that I work for a company that provides an integration platform to connect up the tools and people that produce software from idea to coding to deployment. Our customers are some of the largest companies in the world, and in nearly all cases, they build software not for the sake of commercializing it, but rather as a means to solving a problem or driving a competitive advantage in their respective industry, from banking, to insurance, to healthcare, to retail, to manufacturing, to government. We’re helping traditional businesses turn into software delivery organizations. Cheers to that.

When you think of integration, its just not sexy. Period.

Even though we are participating at SXSW Interactive this week as a stop on the SXSW Startup Crawl, and our CEO Mik Kersten has a talk on Monday evening, the reality is that we just aren’t as cool (or as young, truth be told) as a lot of the folks who do social or mobile or cloud. We do know what those words mean but our lot is all about creating a new kind of collaborative infrastructure for software delivery. We are at SXSW because our US HQs are located in Austin and because of my love of the SXSW event, even though Tasktop doesn’t fit neatly into an event that I often joke is short for “SeXy SoftWare”.

I promised Mik that I would pitch his SXSW talk, so here is the pitch… We’re also here to demonstrate how crucial it is to create a multi-vendor platform for software delivery collaboration if we are to make the next order of magnitude improvement in our ability to deliver software, as Mik will outline in his talk Social Code Graph: The Future of Open Source. Seriously, it is a marriage of a geeky topic with cool visualizations, and I would encourage you to attend and experience some of Mik’s passion and boundless energy.

This blog is my feeble attempt to explain what we do and explain why it is important. I wish it was containable within 140 characters. I wish it was containable in some pithy one-liner that I could use at the bar that would result in me being the life of the party. Every time I get it to 140 characters, it sounds like some sort of marketing jargon. So, what we have at Tasktop is great business that solves a really big problem that still takes too many words to explain.

If your company produces software in any sizable scale, I’d encourage you to at least give this blog the ten minutes it takes to read, even if you aren’t directly or even indirectly involved in the production of software.

What is Integration?

When we talk about integration, we are talking about moving data from one system to another and keeping each system synchronized. That is exactly what we do at Tasktop. It’s all about the flow of information between the constituents who drive the creative processes around software delivery. We help companies automate the flow of information between all of their tools that are used in the production of software, ensuring that the right information is at the right place at the right time.

When you think about how software is produced, especially in large companies, it generally involves some hair-brained idea from a manager (I am a manager, so I feel comfortable making this assertion), some business analysts who have to convert that idea into a semi-sensible set of requirements, a product/project manager who must convert those requirements into a project plan, developers who get the pleasure of struggling to make it a reality, quality assurance personnel who figure out where they screwed up, and operations who determine why it won’t scale.

Generally speaking, each constituent above uses their own tools, often times from different competitive vendors. The various disciplines are often separated geographically, commonly with cultural and language barriers. The vendors are usually not interested in effective integration, as each is competing for grabbing as much of the software lifecycle as possible. Even if the products are from one vendor, they often are not integrated with each other. Adding fuel to the blaze, culturally, the different disciplines of software do not always get along. It is no wonder that, despite all of the great advancements in each silo, software projects fail or are delayed 24-68 percent of the time. At Tasktop, we do integration, specifically the integration to make information between the five disciplines of software delivery (requirements, development, testing, deployment and project management) flow between the various tools that each discipline uses. Whether you call it Application Lifecycle Management (ALM) or Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC), we are putting the “L” back into this business process of software delivery.

Why is Integration Important?

Why is moving data around between various systems something you should pay attention to? As we’ve been doing deployments of our Tasktop Sync integration solutions in enterprise situations over the past couple of years, we’ve learned that the data moving around is really just a proxy for the automation of the software delivery business process. As we kick off the deployments in our customers, we are often bringing the key representative stakeholders of the tools (e.g., QA and development) together for the first time to talk about not just their silo’d business processes, but more importantly, to talk about how the two (or more) disciplines should work together to build better software in a predictable and repeatable manner.

So what does this mean? The best way to think about this is by wondering what the world would look like when the software delivery process is not integrated. Over the past 15 years, we’ve seen each of the five disciplines focus internally as a silo. During those 15 years, each silo experienced tremendous innovations, such as Agile planning and development, Continuous Delivery, DevOps, functional programming languages, and test-driven development. The challenge was that as each of the silos optimized, the valleys between them grew ever deeper. Testers would often batch up all of the defects they discovered in a spreadsheet and share the defects every month or six weeks with the development team.

Requirements were often not tied back to the activities that developers did and the tests that QA professionals ran, so a change to a requirement was often not caught. Reporting and analytics across the entire software delivery value chain was impossible without significant manual work. As more industries faced new regulations, increased reporting requirements, compliance from their stakeholders, and demands for more governance, the ramifications of not meeting these needs had real financial consequences. No matter what industry you are in, having an integrated software delivery chain will ensure higher software quality, faster cycle times for application development and delivery, and less rework.

Another reason why integration is so important is because it connects up different worlds. Over the past ten years, we’ve seen some pretty dramatic changes in the power of the individual. Whether it was populism driven by Apple devices being purchased by the individual and brought into the workplace, even though the individual had to pay for it out of their own pocket, or it was the freedom of inexpensive tools that an individual could easily purchase via a credit card (e.g., JIRA, Github or free e.g., open source ala Hudson/Jenkins, Git, Bugzilla, etc.), more and more software development had the inmates running the asylum. Even though Central IT groups or management had mandated the use of a particular tool stack or technology set, individuals were defying those mandates and going with the tools or devices that made them the most productive and effective in their jobs. So, one of the big problems that integration allows our customers to solve is to connect up the world of the individual, where the newest, coolest, most productive, least heavyweight usually wins the day, with the needs of the enterprise and what were viewed as heavyweight tools and technology that were trying to manage risk, gain visibility, ensure governance and compliance, and generally protect the organization. 

Hope to See You at SXSW or a Watering Hole Soon

Integration may not be sexy, but it’s now the main bottleneck that we as an industry have on scaling our collective ability to delivery software by 10x.

So if you see me out and about this weekend at SXSW, I am happy to talk about TechGirlz, or my kids, or Capital Factory, or DreamIt, or bootstrapping a business to 50+ people, or professional blackjack, but I hope you also ask me about integrating your software delivery stack. I promise I won’t scare you too much.